Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant was not the only person to lose his job on Wednesday. As
he was pulling into the driveway of his notorious home (it has also been called
a mansion and fortress in recent days) in Moshav Amikam, Egyptian President
Hosni Mubarak appeared on television to announce that he would not run for
reelection in September.
Despite the coincidental timing of Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s decision to cancel Galant’s appointment as the
next chief of General Staff and Mubarak’s announcement, the two are worlds
Galant lost his job over the way he planted olive trees in the
orchard next to his house and in an alleged false affidavit he submitted to the
authorities about it afterward.
Mubarak lost his job of 30 years over
runaway inflation, high unemployment, ignoring the voice of his people in the
last elections and not allowing even a single member of the Muslim Brotherhood
But the two are also connected.
upheaval in Egypt, which includes a possible radical regime change, has the
potential to significantly alter Israel’s strategic standing in the Middle East.
Galant, as a former OC Southern Command, is intimately familiar with the
Egyptian military and the IDF’s contingency plans, many of which he wrote or
OVER THE years Israel has watched the military growth in Egypt
with a great deal of suspicion. While peace between the countries is believed to
be a priceless asset, it has kept an eye on Egypt’s military buildup, based
mostly on American- made platforms and made possible by about $1.5 billion a
year in US foreign aid.
The difference between the foreign aid that
Israel gets, now almost double Egypt’s, is that the money has been consistently
used to fight wars – against Palestinian terrorism in the early 2000s, the
Second Lebanon War in 2006 and Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip in 2009 –
while Egypt has continued to stockpile weaponry without ever really needing to
use any of it.
The Egyptian military consists of about 500,000 soldiers
in more than a dozen mobilized divisions. It has more than 500 aircraft,
including close to 250 F-16s, and 3,000 tanks including more than 900 M1A1
Abrams. It has another 1,000 tanks in dry storage. It has 3,000 or so artillery
batteries and the same number of anti-aircraft stations plus a significant
number of Scud-B ballistic missiles.
The question has always been: Who is
threatening Egypt that it needs such a powerful military? A simple glance at the
map shows that none of its neighbors, such as Sudan and Libya, come close to its
military capabilities, except of course for Israel, which serves as the
imaginary enemy in many of its land exercises.
In 1996, for example,
exercises included a scenario of war against “a little country northeast of
Egypt.” It’s safe to assume the commanders were not referring to Jordan. At the
same time, the assessment in Israel has always been that Egyptian commanders are
in favor of peace, which has provided them with stability and US military
From a straight military perspective, Israel has gained from
peace. Firstly, it has been able to focus on what it perceived were its more
urgent fronts – Iran, the north with Lebanon and Syria and against the
Palestinians. The fact that the Sinai is demilitarized provides a major buffer
zone in the event of a new conflict, giving the IDF time to prepare.
radical regime takes over in Egypt, the IDF will have to be restructured –
adding new divisions, new fighter squadrons and new navy vessels – to be able to
create a conventional deterrence against the Egyptian military and not to have
to rely solely on the deterrence that it gains from its alleged nuclear
THERE ARE also more tactical, short-term concerns such as the
possibility that a regime change could lead to a massive increase in the amount
and quality of weaponry smuggled from the Sinai into the Gaza Strip. It is also
possible that terrorists will increase their use of the Sinai as a launch pad
for attacks. In recent years, around 20 bomb belts have been captured by troops
as terrorists tried to smuggle them in from Egypt.
There is also the
question of what Israel will do if the new regime instructs the military to
begin holding large exercises in the Sinai, a clear violation of the peace
treaty but not necessarily enough to go to war over.
speaking, Mubarak’s downfall and the possibility of an Islamic takeover of Egypt
need to be viewed in the larger regional context. Similar challenges await Saudi
Arabia – another country with an American military – and Jordan, as well as Iraq
and Afghanistan following the expected US withdrawals. Lebanon is already in
Hizbullah hands. Ultimately, the main victor will be Iran which is replacing the
US as the real power broker in the region.
It is within this context that
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will have to decide what to do about Iran’s
nuclear program. An Islamic-controlled Egypt could provide support – even if
just moral support – for Iran. This could eventually translate into military
backing in the event that Iran’s nuclear installations are attacked.
ALL of this going on it is difficult to understand the considerations behind
Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s decision not to extend Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi’s
term as chief of General Staff for the amount of time it takes to find a
suitable successor in place of Yoav Galant. What is even more disturbing is how
Barak went on television Wednesday night – on all three news channels – and
accused Ashkenazi of normative, ethical and professional flaws. That same day,
fighters took off to bomb targets in the Gaza Strip. What were those pilots and
soldiers risking their lives supposed to think about when they saw the fighting
at the top? It is no longer a secret that something rotten is happening within
the defense establishment. In his accusations against Ashkenazi, Barak was
likely referring to the upcoming state comptroller’s report on the Harpaz
affair, named for Boaz Harpaz, the former intelligence officer who allegedly
forged a document meant to torpedo Galant’s appointment. The report could be
extremely damaging for Ashkenazi, whose involvement has yet to be completely
For all these reasons, what the IDF needs now is a new chief
of General Staff, someone who can grab the reins and guide the IDF back on